MAINE, Maine — Maine is first in the country when it comes to laws that protect animals. A lot of the credit for that goes to Maine Friends of Animals, an organization devoted to shepherding bills through the Legislature. Former legislator Robert Fisk launched the non-profit 25 years ago.
"Through osmosis or default as a lowly freshman, I became the resident expert in Augusta on animal issues," Fisk said. "It showed me that there was no vehicle in which animal legislation could be brought up and passed. There just wasn’t a cohesive group doing that."
Fisk served two years in the Legislature and has continued advocating for animals.
"I’ve always had the passion for this," he said of his work. "I’ve been involved in animal protection for over 40 years, I’ve been a legislator, political all my life, so I know politics. But until you’ve been a legislator and been up in Augusta and know how to work through the system and the halls and how to get things done, it’s very hard."
‘Getting things done’ has been the work of Maine Friends of Animals since its inception.
"Our mission is to promote the humane treatment of animals through education, advocacy, and legislation," he said.
Fisk guided Maine Friends of Animals with a two-pronged approach.
"We needed to partner all the animal protection people in the state so we were more effective as one entity and the second part was using legislation as a vehicle for change. Those were the two main parts of the mission when we first started out and we’ve stayed with it ever since. We’ve been very legislatively focused."
This work has made our state first in the country for laws that protect animals, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that reviews animal protection laws in each state.
Kathleen Wood is a staff attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
"Each year, for the past sixteen years, we’ve published a report that ranks those states according to the strengths and weaknesses in their animal protection laws," she said.
"We go through thousands of pages of animal cruelty laws every year and for the past two years Maine has been ranked number one," she said. "Due in large part to their courtroom animal advocate program passed in 2020."
That law, also known as Franky’s Law, allows volunteer attorneys or law students to donate their time as advocates to help on animal cruelty cases. It is the most recent example of animal protection legislation passed by Maine.
Fisk hopes this law will help.
"So many times animal cruelty cases don’t get adjudicated and litigated like they should," he said. "This will help them. It will be a program that will help mitigate that need."
Wood put it this way: "Maine has always done a great job of protecting animals. They have incredibly comprehensive neglect laws, requiring certain standards of care for animals, so I have no doubt that they will continue to improve and maintain that top spot."
There is no end to the work Maine Friends of Animals hopes to accomplish.
"Education is the most important thing," Fisk said. "That begets advocacy. Advocacy then gets people thinking and it changes the way they’re thinking and finally you move in to legislation. How I view it is, we plant seeds. Seeds of thinking differently about animals."